Living at altitude affects our bodies, our skin and our breathing, but does it also affect the food we eat every day?
It was at the very first Alpen Art wine workshop that I had the opportunity to meet Cassandre, the sommelier at this tasty event, and share with her all her knowledge on the subject. A young graduate of the sommelier school in Tain l'Hermitage (Drôme), Cassandre shares her love of wine with her customers.
Wine in Savoie?
Once rich in vines, the mountains of Savoie no longer really have any high-altitude cultivation, due to the wars and the industrialisation of society. Today, the last resistant vines can be found at 600 metres, compared with 1,000 metres previously. Above all, Savoie is fortunate to have a regulated climate, which allows the grapes to ripen later, with harvests now taking place towards the end of September.
For your information, you can find vines at an altitude of 1,500 metres in Switzerland!
Does wine change with altitude?
As you know, at altitude there is less oxygen and the atmospheric pressure is lower. A wine ages more quickly, but becomes richer and develops in both taste and intensity, with more pronounced flavours and aromas.
Transporting a wine made in the valley to a resort like Val Thorens (2,300 metres above sea level) takes 15 days before it can be tasted properly.
How do I store my wine in the mountains?
Wine conservation at altitude is very different from that in the valley. In Lyon, humidity is measured at 70/80%, whereas in Val Thorens it is estimated at 10%, which explains the very dry air.
For those who don't have a cellar but still want to preserve their wine, Cassandre recommends regularly dampening the floor of the room where the bottles are stored. A big splash of water near your collection will also do the trick.
Storing your bottle on the balcony of your flat, on the pretext of keeping it cool, is pointless... The very sub-zero temperatures are very likely to make it lose all its flavour.
The consequences of poorly preserved wine in the high mountains are mainly felt in the state of the cork when it becomes too dry:
It can shrink, becoming smaller and therefore favouring drips (when the wine escapes).
The taste of the cork can be felt in the wine
The cap may break more easily when opened
Which wines go with which dishes?
It's always difficult to match a particular dish with a particular wine. Cassandre's answer to this kind of problem is to follow a precise rule: a local wine with a local dish. In her opinion, this gastronomic pairing is always coherent and bears fruit during the meal. For the most part, what matters is the quality of the products.
Here are his recommendations for typical Savoyard dishes:
- For the more typical, a classic tartare of Arctic char (freshwater lake fish) is accompanied by a white Savoy roussette from the Altesse grape variety.
- For the more traditional, a fondue will go perfectly with an Apremont (white) and a raclette with an Apremont "Anno Domini" from Jean Noël Blard. A fruity, mineral wine with a slightly salty finish, very thirst-quenching.
- A charcuterie/cheese appetiser would go well with Julien Viana's cuvée Paroxysme from the cellier de la baraterie (a blend of Mondeuse noire pinot noir and gamay) 2015. The wine is refreshing, juicy and very fruity.
*Wine workshops are held twice a month from 7pm at Alpen Art, Place Caron. Price: €18. Please contact Alpen Art to register or for more information. Contact Aurélie Rey 06 11 11 93 87.
And what about the food? At 2300 metres, if you want to eat well, you have to eat fresh produce!
Éric Darut, head chef at the La Maison restaurant in Val Thorens, talks to us about the constraints he encounters every day in his kitchen at altitude.
The first is the cooking time. In Val Thorens, the water boils at 85°, compared with 100° in the lowlands, which means that food takes longer to prepare and cook. For example, Éric explains that rice takes ten minutes longer to cook in Val Thorens. It takes much longer to make a risotto. The chef has to constantly play with the temperatures by increasing or decreasing the degrees.
Second constraint: dry air! After trying their hand at making brioches, the chefs realised that the design was too complicated because they dried out far too quickly in the dry mountain air. Real Christian suffocation in itself! This problem has a direct influence on the choice of desserts available.
So, at altitude, the time limit for consuming finished products is always linked to the dry air. With very rapid fermentation, ready-made meals have to be eaten almost immediately to avoid spoiling them, and this applies mainly to desserts, which dry out much more quickly. A good excuse for food lovers!
The recipe for the pizza dough also underwent a few changes due to the altitude. Éric thins out his dough by adding less yeast than planned, so the dough puffs up less quickly but also dries less quickly. The freshness of the dough is essential to prevent it from crusting up immediately.
In terms of other constraints, the supply of fresh produce is often problematic, mainly because of the road, but also because of the weather. For example, the restaurant La Maison receives its meats once a week. There is a lot of organisational work involved in stocking up on provisions and foodstuffs.
Finally, the Panoramic Caron, based at 3,200 metres at the top of the Cime Caron, cannot cook at such an altitude, and supplying it is a tricky task because it is completely dependent on the weather and the opening of the cable car!
It's now certain that altitude plays tricks on us in every respect, but the pleasure of the mountains is well worth the effort.